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FYI Number 108: October 1, 2002

Senate Moving Toward Passage of NSF Doubling Bill

If all goes as planned, legislation authorizing a doubling of the National Science Foundation's budget will move to the Senate floor in the near future. Following Senate consideration, a conference between key House and Senate authorizers will then resolve differences between the two versions of the bill, clearing the way for a final vote on passage. The outlook for the legislation is clouded, however, as the Bush Administration is opposed to several provisions in the bill.

In early June, the House approved by a vote of 397-25 a bill that would put the NSF on track for a doubling of its budget in five years, although it was limited to an initial three years. Shortly before the Senate went on its summer recess, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S. 2817, which authorized a doubling of the foundation's budget over five years. After the recess, Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee met quickly in a small room of the Capitol and passed the legislation.

Two committees have jurisdiction over NSF in the Senate. S. 2817 was then referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which considered the bill on September 19. The committee had 13 bills on its plate that day, and took about ten minutes to review S. 2817. That was enough time to reveal some important opposition to this bill. Ranking Minority Member John McCain (R-AZ) spoke against an authorization for five years, saying that it was a very long period of time. McCain wanted to know how the additional money would be used. He also cited a letter on National Science Foundation letterhead stating opposition to the bill as written.

Some of this opposition is to be expected. The authorization for FY 2003 was higher than the Bush Administration requested. The letter said: "the amounts authorized in S. 2817 do not conform to the Administration's FY 2003 Budget request for NSF. NSF supports the Administration's budget request and therefore the bill should be amended to reflect the amounts contained in the authorizing legislation the Foundation transmitted to the Congress on May 14, 2002. Moreover, Dr. John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the President's Science Advisor, has stated that any plans for increased expenditures must be supported by a specific rationale for each increase, rather than an arbitrary formula." Marburger made a similar point during an August PCAST conference call when he objected to "arbitrary formulas" for budget increases (see FYI #101).

The NSF letter also expressed opposition to a provision of S. 2817 moving the Department of Education's portion of the Math- Science Partnership Program to NSF (see FYI #105). Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings (D-SC) expressed his disappointment with that proposal during the mark up, saying "I think we can work that out." Finally, the NSF letter outlined the foundation's concern about the Kennedy bill's provisions on liberalizing EPSCoR eligibility, its relation to the National Science Board, and a program to increase participation of women, minority, and disabled students working toward an S&T degree. The Association of American Universities has posted the letter on its web site at http://www.aau.edu/research/NSFLtr9.17.02.html

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) responded to McCain's concerns by describing the lengthy time that basic research requires. Engineering and physical science funding had lagged, he said. A five year authorization, Wyden stated, would not preclude the committee from exercising its oversight function. With that, McCain withdrew his amendment. By voice vote Holling's committee approved the bill.

The new fiscal year starts today without any of the thirteen appropriations bills signed into law. No one knows what will happen next. For now, funding for NSF and all of the other federal departments and agencies will continue at the current level.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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